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Exploring the Fáilte Ireland Tourism Photographic Collection

In December 2021, the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) collaborated with DRI members Dublin City Library and Archive (DLCA) as part of the Archive Advent Calendar campaign run by the Archives and Record Association (ARA) Scotland. For the first twenty-five days of December, archives and repositories around the world were invited to share content from their collections related to daily festive themes, using the hashtag #ArchiveAdventCalendar. This campaign represented a wonderful opportunity to showcase the beautiful black and white photographs from the Fáilte Ireland Tourism Photographic Collection, which was deposited on DRI by DCLA. The photographs in the collection cover all counties in the Republic of Ireland and focus on a myriad of topics related to tourism. Most of the photographs date from the 1930s to the early 2000s and were all taken by professional photographers employed by Bórd Fáilte.

Image: Archive Advent Calendar 2021 by ARA Scotland

For the DRI, one of the joys of exploring the Fáilte Ireland collection as part of the campaign was the chance to learn about local history from the images and to discover or rediscover Irish customs, traditions, and landmarks captured in the collection photographs. The images in this vast collection of over 100,000 photographs provide a window into Ireland’s changing social history and are an invaluable resource for anybody interested in exploring visual records of life in Ireland through the decades. Below, we share a few highlights from images shared during the Archive Advent Calendar campaign in the countdown to Christmas day. 

For the theme of ‘Shopping’ we chose to share a beautiful image of St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre taken in 1989, a year after the centre first opened for business. The shopping centre was built on a site formerly occupied by the Dandelion Market – a colourful collection of market stalls selling food, secondhand records, and alternative fashion which traded throughout the 1970s. The Dandelion Market is still remembered affectionately by many Dubliners as ‘the place to be and to be seen’ in Dublin on weekends [1]. The Dandelion Market closed in 1981 and development got underway for St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, which eventually opened in 1988. The image below showcases the centre’s unique and ornate architectural design and also features the centre’s distinctive clock, reputed to be the largest in Ireland.

Image: Fáilte Ireland. (1989) St Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, Grafton Street, Dublin City, County Dublin, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Dublin City Library and Archive [Depositing Institution],

For the theme of ‘Candle’, we featured a simple 1955 image of a candle in the window of a thatched cottage – a familiar sight in houses around Ireland on Christmas Eve. The tradition of placing a candle in the window on Christmas Eve dates back hundreds of years, and the lighting of the Christmas Eve candle is still performed to this day, usually by the youngest member of the family. The candle is thought to be a symbol of welcome, signalling that the Holy Family, or indeed any weary traveller, can seek refuge at the house with the guiding light [2].

Image: Image: Fáilte Ireland. (1955) Christmas Candle in Cottage Window, The Scalp, Co. Wicklow, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Dublin City Library and Archive [Depositing Institution],

We were spoilt for choice for images related to the theme of ‘Decorations’. We settled on a 1952 image of McBirney’s, one of Dublin city’s lost department stores. Once a well-known Dublin landmark on Aston Quay, the store was famous for its annual Christmas displays and for providing customers with a personalised luxury shopping experience. Fashion historian Ruth Griffin writes that: 

[I]n the early 20th century it was a popular destination for the aristocracy of the country who came from all over the country to visit the fashion floors, which had an orchestra playing every afternoon to amuse and entertain customers.[3]

The store was in operation from 1845 to 1984, when it eventually closed as the customised style of service it offered fell out of favour. The building became occupied by a Virgin Megastore in 1986 and is now a branch of Supervalu. The image below provides a fascinating insight into a bygone era of glitz and glamour.

Image: Fáilte Ireland. (1952) Christmas Decorations, McBirneys, Dublin, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Dublin City Library and Archive [Depositing Institution],

For the theme of ‘Festive Traditions’ we selected a 1963 image of the Forty Foot Rock at Sandycove, a popular location for Christmas day swims – an early morning Christmas tradition in Ireland for over 250 years [4]. The image below shows the Forty Foot Rock in clement weather; however, on Christmas morning swimmers must brace themselves for icy waters before taking the plunge!

Image: Fáilte Ireland. (1963) Sandycove, Forty Foot, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Dublin City Library and Archive [Depositing Institution],

For the theme of ‘Star’ we chose to share a 1960 image of Dublin city at Christmas time, in which a single star forms a focal point of the image. Below the star, you can see Nelson’s Pillar, a large granite column topped by a statue of British Royal Navy officer Horatio Nelson, which was erected in the centre of O'Connell Street (then Sackville Street) in 1809 when Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. It was destroyed in 1966 and, after much debate, [5] was replaced many years later in 2003 by the Spire of Dublin.

Image: Fáilte Ireland. (1960) Christmas Lights, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Dublin City Library and Archive [Depositing Institution],  

Finally, we leave you with this magical 1953 image of Christmas lights illuminating a peaceful O’Connell Street. Parked cars are no longer a staple of the street but the tram lines are back, making it a fitting representation of the sometimes cyclical nature of change in a city landscape.

Image: Fáilte Ireland. (1953) Christmas Illuminations, O'Connell Street, Dublin, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Dublin City Library and Archive [Depositing Institution],

To discover more images from the Fáilte Ireland collection shared as part of the Archive Advent Calendar campaign, we invite you to visit the DRI Instagram page: 

You can also explore the entire collection of over 100,000 images on the DRI Repository here:

Thank you to our friends at DCLA for widening access to this culturally significant collection by depositing it on the DRI where it can be explored for education and enjoyment.


[1] Allen, A.P., A. O'Carroll, R.A.P. Roche, C. Doyle, C. Smyth, O. Frawley, A. Bokde, et al. “Interview about Dandelion Market in 1970's.” Digital Repository of Ireland. Irish Qualitative Data Archive, February 2, 2018.

[2] Information on the custom of lighting a candle on Christmas Eve can be gleaned from the personal stories collected as part of the National Folklore Collection. The physical collection is housed at University College Dublin and the digitised collection can be explored at

[3] Griffin, Ruth. 2021. "The glamorous history of Dublin's lost department stores." RTÉ. August 19. Accessed January 5, 2022.

[4] Irish Times. December 25. Accessed January 5, 2022.

[5] Ó Riain, Micheál. 1998. "Nelson's Pillar." History Ireland 6 (4).


By Áine Madden